Kelly addresses census importance, concerns at community briefing

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly says the stakes are high as the 2020 national census nears, and that all south suburban residents should make sure they are counted next year.
 
A low turnout, Kelly said at a recent forum, could reduce the number of the Illinois Congressional delegation in Washington.
 
“We’ve already lost one seat,” she said. “We don’t want to lose two.”
 
Not participating in the census leads to a loss of $1,400 in government funding for each Illinois resident, she said.
 
Kelly discussed the upcoming census at a meeting Monday, August 5, at Country Club Hills city hall. It was the second of two community briefings to let residents know why it’s important to be included in the national count. Kelly, a Democrat, represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Homewood and Flossmoor.
 
Other presenters demonstrated Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM), Illinois’s new census interface, which gives residents the ability to identify low-engagement communities and organize to increase their participation.
 
“Let’s say Illinois has a population of 2 million. Right now, only 1.5 million are being counted. That means the funding we get for 1.5 million people will be stretched out to cover the 500,000 residents who went uncounted,” Bryan J. Zarou, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Forefront explained. 
 
Zarou, along with Cory J. Stevenson, US Census Partnership Specialist, outlined a number of initiatives intended to reach “hard to count” resident groups, including: immigrants, millennials, people of color, rural residents and seniors.
 
Presenters informed the room of residents that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker appropriated $29 million to community-based organization efforts to increase engagement among these communities.
 
Still, federal funding for census outreach and education is lower now than it was 10 years ago: “We’re doing more with less,” Zarou explained. 
 
Other changes at the federal level have threatened to further endanger participation in hard-to-count populations. Presenters explained that President Trump’s proposed “citizenship question” would have proven counterproductive to efforts to reach immigrant communities. 
 
“Thankfully, the issue of the citizenship question is behind us now,” Zarou said. “But there is still a great amount of work to be done.”
 
When given the opportunity to ask questions, residents tied cyber security concerns to Washington, too, citing the Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election as a concern during the census.
 
That lack of trust can be found in congressional districts regardless of socioeconomic makeup, Kelly said.
 
“My colleague has mentioned cyber security as an issue as well, and he is from a very wealthy part of Illinois,” she said. “Hopefully, we can convince people to complete the census, and that their information will be confidential and safe.”
 
Kelly explained that the $1,400 loss in funding per each non-participating Illinois resident would be felt tenfold, as the census is only conducted every decade. 
 
“If you’re not counted, we don’t know you’re here. When you realize we lose $1,400 per person for 10 years, that’s a $14,000 loss. And that affect has an impact that reaches even beyond those 10 years,” she said.
 
While skeptics find the push to reach immigrant and undocumented populations ambitious, Kelly simply said, “We have to try.”
 
For more information on how to join community-based efforts to increase participation on the 2020 Census, visit Response Outreach Area Mapper.
 
 

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